There's no shortage of accolades in Hollywood: Oscars, Tonys, Grammys, Emmys.
"But what about the teachers?" asked James Geller, computer science professor and associate dean of research at NJIT's Ying Wu College of Computing Sciences.
Geller decided to organize an award ceremony to celebrate the contributions and commitment to teaching college-level computer science. It was a joint venture between NJIT and Patricia Morreale, chair of the computer science department at Kean University, where the ceremony took place Aug. 17 in conjunction with the third annual Computer Science Chairs Conference.
"I like movies but I don't think Leonardo DiCaprio has really improved the life of anybody who's watching him in a movie," Geller quipped. "I think it's teachers who are improving the lives of people, and they should be awarded for that."
Honorees included Princeton University computer science professor and author Brian Kernighan (Outstanding Impact on the Profession of Computer Science Education), NJIT university lecturer Junilda Spirollari (Outstanding Performance in Computer Science Education at a Ph.D.-Granting New Jersey Institution) and Deborah Knox, associate professor of computer science at The College of New Jersey (Outstanding Performance in Computer Science Education at an Undergraduate and M.S.-Granting New Jersey Institution).
After accepting his award, Kernighan gave a presentation on teaching digital humanities in computer science by exploring an early social network.
Also on hand were Kean University Provost Jeffrey Toney, who welcomed the audience of computer scientists, and New Jersey Deputy Secretary of Higher Education Gregg Edwards, who touched on his team's efforts to enhance the best practices in computer science education.
"New Jersey is part of a national effort to promote STEM learning through various mechanisms–higher education is one of them, K-12 is another," he explained. "But we're also trying to identify what else is happening in defined communities to promote STEM learning."
Another big effort, Edwards said, is making sure more New Jersey students graduate from high school ready for college. "We're developing new learning standards and tools to measure how well we're doing to reach those standards."
The recipients shared highlights of the experiences in their lives that guided them toward excellence in teaching. Spirollari said that 20 years ago, she would have "never imagined this day, coming from such an impoverished, small country in the Mediterranean where women were not meant for computer science."
For Knox, excellence in teaching may be measured in many ways, but to a student, a professor's excellence isn't necessarily about teaching theory or creating an application–or even the grade earned. "A student may measure our excellence when we make a connection in order to share our own joy of learning and our own fulfillment in guiding the student to success," she said.
Although it took three years to get off the ground, Geller is thrilled with the turnout and warm reception of the award ceremony.
"No, New Jersey will never be Hollywood, but New Jersey could be the education state. New Jersey could be the software state. And lets remember," reminded Geller, "everything that makes technology tick was invented in New Jersey."
One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of 11,300 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering and cybersecurity, in addition to others. NJIT ranks fifth among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to Payscale.com. NJIT has a $1.74 billion annual economic impact on the state of New Jersey.